Oklahoma attorney general calls out NCAA for “excessive” penalty against OSU’s basketball team

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma official is calling out the NCAA for what he says is an “excessive and unfair” punishment imposed on the Oklahoma State men’s basketball program.

Several weeks ago, the NCAA announced a series of punishments against the OSU men’s basketball program after a former associate head coach violated NCAA ethical conduct rules.

Officials say former OSU assistant basketball coach Lamont Evans received at least $22,000 in bribes in exchange for his agreement to influence certain student-athletes.

Evans was fired from the program and was eventually sentenced to three months in prison in June of 2019.

“Coaches are entrusted to look after the well-being and best interests of their student-athletes, including during the critical time when student-athletes are making decisions regarding their professional careers,” the Division I Committee said in its decision. “As the associate head coach admitted in his sentencing hearing, he abused this trust for his own personal gain. He sold access to student-athletes and used his position as a coach and mentor to steer them toward a career decision — retaining the financial advisors’ services — that would financially benefit him. In short, he put his interests ahead of theirs.”

As a result, the following punishments were imposed on the program:

  • Three years of probation.
  • A 2020-21 postseason ban for the men’s basketball team.
  • A $10,000 fine plus 1% of the men’s basketball program budget (self-imposed by the university).
  • A reduction of men’s basketball scholarships by a total of three during the 2020-21 through 2022-23 academic years.
  • A reduction of men’s basketball official visits to 25 during the 2018-19/2019-20 rolling two-year period and to 18 during the 2019-20/2020-21 rolling two-year period (self-imposed by the university).
  • A prohibition of men’s basketball unofficial visits for two weeks during the fall of 2020 and two weeks during the fall of 2021 (self-imposed by the university). The university also must prohibit unofficial visits for three additional weeks during the fall of 2020, 2021 and/or 2022.
  • A prohibition of men’s basketball telephone recruiting for a one-week period during the 2020-21 academic year (self-imposed by the university). The university also must prohibit telephone recruiting for six additional weeks during the probation period.
  • A reduction in the number of men’s basketball recruiting person days by 12 during the 2019-20 academic year (self-imposed by the university). The university also must reduce the number of recruiting person days by five during the 2020-21 academic year.
  • A 10-year show-cause order for the former associate head coach. During that period, any NCAA member school employing him must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows cause why the restrictions should not apply.
  • A prohibition of the men’s basketball staff from participating in off-campus evaluations for three consecutive days during the summer evaluation periods in 2020 (self-imposed by the university).

On Friday, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter sent a four-page letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert, denouncing the severe punishment.

In the letter, Hunter said that the NCAA didn’t provide a sufficient explanation for such a harsh penalty, even though the incident involved one corrupt coach.

He said harshly punishing universities that cooperate or self-report incidents could cause universities to stonewall other investigations.

“The punishment by the NCAA to the OSU men’s basketball program is excessive, is completely unfair and only hurts the student athletes, who have worked their entire lives to play basketball at this level,” Attorney General Hunter said. “In its findings, the NCAA admits that the university had no knowledge or connection to the corrupt act of a lone wolf, and his actions were of no benefit whatsoever to the university. The NCAA’s punishment is unjustifiable, illogical and needs to be re-assessed.”

The letter explains that the NCAA admits it found the coach began accepting bribes to steer student athletes to two financial advisors before he was employed by OSU.

“OSU, the Committee argues, completely ‘owns the conduct’ of the coach,” Attorney General Hunter writes. “But this is not how the employer/employee relationship is typically understood to work. Employers are not usually responsible for every wrong employees commit, and especially not at the same level of culpability.”  

The attorney general also found ‘worrisome’ that some aspects of the decision appear to have been copied and pasted from other decisions from the NCAA. He cites, for example, on page 18 of the investigation, the NCAA mistakenly labeled the former basketball coach the ‘head track coach’.

“What concerns me deeply, though, is the level of punishment meted out despite OSU’s full cooperation and without sufficient explanation, punishment that will invariably and negatively affect the school’s innocent student-athletes as much as, if not more than, the leaders and authority figures of the institution.”

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